25 Sept 2023
In the year that Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl topped the charts, breakfast TV launched and the UK introduced the one pound coin, a sleepy Surrey golf club was spotted by an ambitious entrepreneur and so the journey began to transform Foxhills into a multi-award-winning club and resort for the whole family.
Ian Hayton was among the pioneers of the family-style country club in the UK in the 1980’s and, with his wife Pamela, they quickly developed the manor house of Foxhills which has stood proudly in Ottershaw for nearly 200 years, beyond a golf club to Surrey’s premium hotel, club and resort which now welcomes thousands of guests every year and boasts a thriving membership.
Sadly, Ian Hayton passed away in 2010 but his legacy continues under the watchful eye of his son, Marc, Foxhills’ current CEO. He and the rest of the Hayton family marked 40 years of ownership of Foxhills by hosting a glamorous masked ball earlier this month where members, guests and staff from all eras enjoyed a lavish feast and elegant entertainment. The evening was a celebration of Foxhills, honouring its special place, not just in the community of Surrey and its surrounds, but in the heart of all who visit and use it.
A high-flying ad executive from the era so well encapsulated by the Mad Men TV series, Ian Hayton said upon buying Foxhills: “It is the perfect beginning for the perfect country club. A club should be at the centre of a member’s activities, they can play their sports but it’s at the heart of their social scene too. There’s no reason why people shouldn’t just join because it’s a good place to be. I visualise an evolution of young people growing up in the club environment, as an extension of their home background.”
He had spotted the huge potential of the historic manor house and golf club set in 400 acres of stunning Surrey countryside, less than an hour out of Central London. The savvy entrepreneur is said to have noticed how the men playing golf all rushed off post-match to enjoy family meals and remarked: “If we can get their families here to join them, we keep the wallet here”.
Within five years, the golf club had rooms and its first paying guests. Over the next four decades, the family added more rooms whilst adapting and diversifying to meet the rapidly changing leisure consumers’ needs from the 1980s to now. More than £35 million of investment over the 40-year period means the resort now boasts an Olympic array of facilities including five pools, 11 tennis courts, three golf courses, children’s soft play, three restaurants, a fully-equipped gym, spa and yoga cabin, and offers more than 200 weekly activities for its members and hotel guests.
It has been frequented by many a celebrity and dignitary over the decades, from David Cameron to Omar Sharif and Sylvester Stallone who was a long-term guest of the hotel. The estate has also starred in top TV shows such Downton Abbey and Spooks as well as in a Cadbury’s advert in 1978.
Over the years, Foxhills has weathered a variety of storms; some literal, like the 1986 hurricane when the estate lost many trees, to more recently the pandemic when it had to close its doors for the first, and only time. In keeping with its generous nature, the club and its members worked together to donate over £28k to local food banks during that period.
To happier times, and in 1999, Foxhills celebrated the Millennium with one of its trademark extravagant New Year balls (whilst back-room staff nervously prepared to ward off the feared Millennium bug!). Social get togethers are a big part of the club’s appeal, from firework events and summer soirees to movie nights and bottomless brunches, there’s an occasion for everyone to enjoy at Foxhills, whether you’re a member or not.
The rapid revolution of technology has propelled hospitality forward, particularly in the last 20 years. Booking platforms transformed the industry and Foxhills launched its own website in the late 1990s. Yet its discerning customers still seek the human touch so evident throughout the resort, with over two thirds still choosing to book in person over the telephone to this day!
From old print adverts in local newspapers, social media marketing campaigns started to emerge from 2010 when the club launched its Twitter account, soon followed by Facebook and Instagram where the great and the good now share their experiences at Surrey’s premier resort and club for all to enjoy. What hasn’t changed too much is the Foxhills’ emblem, ‘CJ’, who first appeared in 1975 when the club was purchased by Aer Lingus and has evolved, remaining a distinguished figurehead for the club and brand.
Golf remains at the heart of Foxhills’ heritage and today over 66,000 rounds of golf are played at the club every year across its three award-winning courses. What’s more, its scholarship programme, The Foxhills Foundation - which is the oldest in the country – has produced some of the country’s top golfers including Anthony Wall and Paul Casey.
Foxhills has always prided itself on its delicious culinary offerings and trends in cuisine have undoubtedly changed over the decades. From dishes like Breast of Chicken Country style and a three-course set menu with wine costing under £10 40 years ago, The Fox dining rooms has now been awarded 2 AA Rosettes for its elegantly refined mouthwatering menu – and the best bit is that it’s open to local residents, not just guests of the hotel and members.
With just 30 staff in 1983, the resort now employs over 400 people, yet its family ethos and independent spirit shines through. Pamela, now in her eighties, recalls: “When your husband comes home and says he’s just bought a 19th century mansion and would like you to decorate and furnish it, you’re likely rendered speechless. I was initially thrilled, then the panic set in!”
She set about individually styling each room as if it were her own home. Her vision, ‘authentic charm with a home from home feel’. From those initial, admittedly quite chintzy curtains and carpets of their time, the rooms at Foxhills are now classic and contemporary in design but retain the unmistakable stamp of Pamela’s original vision which indeed runs throughout the hotel and is encapsulated in its tagline ‘where you belong’.
Current owner and CEO Marc Hayton says: “As we look forward to the next 40 years, Foxhills has even more exciting plans to ensure we continue to welcome and delight guests and members alike.”
Foxhills in numbers